african immigrants 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
The Jerusalem District Court is due to rule in the coming days on a petition by a group of veteran African illegal sojourners whose offer to leave the country voluntarily if the state grants them a one-year visa to prepare for their departure was rejected by the Interior Ministry.
Nigerian-born Fred Asioghae told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that although he had legal status in Israel, his organization, the African Refugee Development Center, initiated the proposal on behalf of 500 of its members, including individuals and families, who have lived here for several years without permits.
Representatives of the group approached then-interior minister Meir Sheetrit and offered a deal whereby they would deposit NIS 3,000 each as a guarantee that they would leave the country exactly one year after the agreement was signed.
According to the draft of the agreement drawn up by ARDC's attorney, Tomer Varsha, "The members of the group do hereby promise to leave Israel within one year of the signing of the agreement. Immediately after the agreement is signed, the state will grant each member of the group a visa valid until he leaves. It is made clear that the visa will not be extended for any member of the group for any reason, and failure to leave by the designated date will prevent anyone who fails to do so from making any future claim for maintaining his status in Israel."
Sheetrit allegedly expressed some interest in the offer, but his successor, Eli Yishai, turned it down flat.
In response, the group, represented by Varsha, petitioned the Jerusalem District Court, saying that "the way the decision was reached by the minister and the Interior Ministry was unworthy and the decision itself was unreasonable. Immediately after we filed a petition asking for temporary remedy, after months in which our proposal had lain about idly, the interior minister decided to reject it. The petitioners received the impression that ministry officials did not hold a serious discussion of our offer."
The state asked the court to reject the petition out of hand, on the grounds that since all the petitioners were illegal sojourners, they had no rights in the country, including the right to suggest a deal.
Varsha accused the Interior Ministry of "maintaining a policy of not granting visas under any circumstances whatsoever. In our case, we are talking about relocating the petitioners to some other country.
"From the humane and economic points of view this proposal is preferable to expulsion. We believe the Interior Ministry is being contrary. It did not address our arguments and did not give us any opportunity to respond."
Varsha told the Post
that the proposal would save the state a great deal of money, since it would not have to track down these sojourners and keep them in jail until they were expelled.
On the other hand, it would make it easier for the sojourners to relocate to Europe, the US or Canada, since their status would have become legal, they would have had a year to work and earn money, and time to find a new country of residence.
According to Varsha, the arrangement could have provided a model for many other illegal sojourners in the future.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said he supported the proposal. He told the Post
that the government's policy to expel illegal sojourners should be carried out "wisely, humanely and correctly. There is no reason to humiliate and persecute people."
The proposal allowed the group to leave Israel with dignity and would also cost the state less and project a positive image of Israel, Meseznikov said.